You Don't Have To Be Crazy To Work Here

Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Haunted" in less than 500 words; first posted there on 28 October 2009.

So your extortionate student loan payments bring you to this: temping as an orderly at Arkham Asylum for the Halloween nightshift. Sure the smarmy advisor at the agency snickered handing you the fifty-page long personal safety booklet, but how bad could a night watching sedated mental patients really be? It had to beat flipping burgers.

But as you walk up the leaf-strewn driveway from the bus stop you start to have regrets. The place looks like the setting for just about every horror movie you've ever seen, and shadows skitter across your face as the branches of skeletal trees dance in the moonlight. You wonder whether it's too late to change agencies.

Inside the atmosphere turns out to be less gothic; more underfunded public hospital. You're joined by several equally uncertain-looking temps and led off by the shift supervisor; a no-nonsense military type with a buzz cut. His forceful personality (and the prominent sidearms worn by security guards on every floor you pass) go some way to reassure you. Maybe you will last the night.

The reassurance lasts for the ten minutes it takes for you to discover just what being assigned to "floor five" means.

You've seen these people on the news – threatening to blow up the city as "a joke", screaming about the rights of daisies as they're hauled off by the cops. Or by a masked vigilante just as weird as they are.

You're left alone in a dimly lit corridor, with strict instructions not to "touch, speak to or in anyway antagonise the patients" until your supervisor comes back. You have no idea why anyone needs to be warned against that.

Although there is a guard on the other side of the door you feel strangely disconnected, as though this corridor is somehow removed from the rest of the asylum. Tip-toeing as quietly as possible, you move further down the hallway to peer into each perspex-fronted cell.

It's almost disappointing. In the low light all you make out is the rough shape of figures under blankets, apparently asleep. Only objects scattered across the floor or pinned to the wall give clues to the occupants' identities beyond the patient numbers stencilled on doors. It almost feels like a museum exhibit.

Until you reached the final cell.

The main wall is covered in horrifying smiles, with a scatter of upturned playing cards across the floor. The simple cot is empty, and you swear your heart actually stops for several seconds.

Then you remember the supervisor mentioning that the Joker had escaped last week; there had been "only" two staff deaths this time. But there's always a cell kept ready for his return.

You spend the rest of the night staying as far away from that end of the corridor as possible. You try to forget about the empty cell full of smiles, but long after your first and only shift at Arkham is over you still feel haunted by the echo of eerie laughter you never even heard.

Author's Note: If I were a broke college student in Gotham, I'd take asking "do you want fries with that" every time over temping at Arkham.